Mike Stevens | Feb 22, 2011

Formula 1 organisers have called off the season's opening race at Bahrain, scheduled for March 13, after anti-government protests led the state to withdraw from hosting the round.

"The Bahrain International Circuit today announced that the Kingdom of Bahrain would withdraw from hosting this year's F1 Grand Prix race so that the country can focus on its process of national dialogue," a statement by the Bahrain Circuit authorities reads.

With the cancellation of the Bahrain race, Melbourne is set to host the opening round of the 2011 Formula 1 championship on March 27.

There had been widespread speculation 24 hours ago that political turmoil in the island Kingdom would mean this year's championship instead takes place in Australia.

"Although Bernie Ecclestone had graciously made clear that a decision on the race was entirely Bahrain's to make and was not yet required, we felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain's Formula One race to a later date," Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Halifa is quoted as saying.

The news follows reports that F1's twelve teams had agreed to cancel the scheduled pre-race group test in Bahrain beginning March 3, with teams now set to return to Spain's Barcelona circuit between March 8-11.

"It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race, we wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country," F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said.

"The hospitality and warmth of the people of Bahrain is a hallmark of the race there, as anyone who has been at a Bahrain Grand Prix will testify. We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon."

It remains to be seen if a decision will be made on the option of Bahrain hosting a race later in the season, although it is believed that it could be scheduled between the Abu Dhabi and Brazil rounds.

Bahrain is the first race to be cancelled since major earthquakes near the Aida circuit in Japan saw the Pacific Grand Prix called off in 1995.

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